Australia have lost their aura, says Strauss

England captain confident as he feels tourists are now 'just like any other team'
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The Independent Online

In one simple sentence yesterday, Andrew Strauss, the captain of England, explained why his team can regain the Ashes. "I don't think this Australian side has got an aura about it to be honest with you," he said.

It was an obvious but sweeping judgement that clarified where the series can and ought to go from here. England are 1-0 ahead and they have begun to realise that their opponents are strong but vulnerable.

Strauss was not indulging in a propaganda campaign – or not much – and he did not set out yesterday morning to undermine his opponents with his final public comments before the toss in the third npower Test today. But, on being asked the question, he answered it candidly and although it caused some stirring in the cheap seats it was perfectly valid.

"Prior to this Test series starting we didn't feel they had an aura about them," he said. "That's not disrespectful to the players they have got because they have a lot of very good players. But I think the aura came with the likes of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, all those sort of guys.

"This team may over time develop an aura but right at the moment it has got a lot of players right at the start of their Test careers. By very definition they don't have an aura about them. That's encouraging. It doesn't mean we're any more likely to beat them or anything like that but it feels like you're playing against any other Test team."

There lay the inescapable point, that England are playing opponents who were incapable of finishing the job in the opening match of the series in Cardiff and who they then outplayed for much of the second at Lord's. The tourists are evolving but the process may not be happening quickly enough.

Ricky Ponting, Australia's captain, was quick to remind Strauss and England precisely where the superiority had lain until two weeks ago. "It is OK for him to say we don't have an aura now, but I'm not sure if he was saying that after Cardiff," Ponting said. "I think we were well and truly all over their batsmen down there."

There was briefly the scent of an aura war erupting between the sides but it was not to be. Both captains are much too sensible and savvy for that. But this was still a telling moment in the evolution of the series because it magnified a few plain truths about Australia.

The teams, weather permitting, will today revisit the scene of the most gut-wrenching match in Ashes history. In 2005, England eventually won by two runs when it seemed that a match that was there for the taking had slipped away from them. The Australian aura was at work then all right, and when England somehow captured the final wicket, the aura slipped somewhat, at least for the remainder of the summer.

If aura is one of those intangible words whose definition means little until you see the quality coming up to smack you between the eyes and then immediately understand what it means, Strauss made eminent sense of it. He has confronted it before against Australia.

"An aura is that opposition teams, even though they're on top, are not confident they're going to beat you," he said. "They always expect something dramatic to happen that will bring the team back in the game and put them under pressure again.

"We certainly felt that in 2006-07 in Australia. England had good days but at the back of our mind we were always thinking, 'well what's going to happen now? Is Gilchrist going to blast a hundred or is Warne going to take five wickets for no runs?' It only comes with a large consistent level of performance over a period of time. Australia had that. Personally I don't feel that's where they are at the moment."

Nor did Strauss make any exorbitant claims about England's aura. "It's for opposition teams to answer," he said. So Ponting did: "I think it is something that is generated over a period of time with some excellent play. I don't see how else you can create an aura without winning everything and being on top, it is just impossible to do. England's current Test rating would probably indicate that they don't have one."

The weather was on Ponting's mind more than auras. The rain barely relented over Edgbaston all day and the groundsman, Steve Rouse, began to bear a greater resemblance to Eeyore. The ground became water-logged as the day passed and the rain was beating the super soppers hands down.

However, the pitch remained firmly under sophisticated hover cover and, although last-minute preparations were impossible, the captains still expect it to be dry, hard and conducive to batting. England sent Monty Panesar to join Northamptonshire but both teams will almost certainly play one spinner.

Strauss has to decide between Graham Onions and Stephen Harmison for the final place and is likely to opt for Onions. Doubts surrounding Andrew Flintoff have been dissipated but England know his errant knee could swell up overnight. Strauss said so. Ponting must balance whether to bring in Stuart Clark to offer some control at one end but is likely to keep faith with his raw attack.

The ground has favoured batting all season, almost all its life, but if there is moisture in the air this morning there will be an enormous temptation to bowl first on winning the toss.

"It's the middle Test match and whatever happens here has a big effect on the last two Test matches," said Strauss. "There is not a lot of time to put things right from hereon in. We're in the fortunate position of being in the lead but the last thing we want to do is give away that lead. This is a huge Test match for both sides." Whoever comes out on top will possess an aura.

*Next year's county season will encompass just three competitions after the England and Wales Cricket Board yesterday confirmed plans first announced last week.

The ECB had been pondering two Twenty20 tournaments but last Wednesday revealed those plans had been scrapped. There will now be three competitions – the LV County Championship, the enhanced P20 tournament to be played in June and July, as well as a Sunday afternoon limited-overs competition – after the structure was rubber stamped at a board meeting today.

Third Test: Weather, TV and teams

Weather report Cloudy with scattered showers, some heavy. Maximum temperature 18C.

Pitch report Outfield likely to be damp; pitch dry and slow despite torrential rain

Cheeky flutter Mitchell Johnson to take five wickets during the first innings; 8-1 (Coral)

Probable teams

England: A J Strauss (c), A N Cook, R S Bopara, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, M J Prior (w), A Flintoff, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson, G Onions

Australia: P J Hughes, S M Katich, R Ponting (c), D J Hussey, M J Clarke, M J North, B J Haddin (w), N M Hauritz, B W Hilfenhaus, M G Johnson, P M Siddle

Umpires: R E Koertzen (SA) & A Dar (Pak)

TV times 10.00-19.00, Sky Sports 1, HD1. Highlights 19.15-20.00, Five